First Female Lifeguard at Ocean City
The Maryland Beachcomber
June 14, 1978
The other day Susan Cain entered rigorous competition for a position on the Ocean City beach patrol. And she emerged as the first female lifeguard in resort history.
The 22-year old pixie, who weighs about 110 lbs., defied the odds one day last week after completing a quarter mile swim non stop in rough current, a simulated rescue, and a 220 yard run under one minute in soft sand.
"A couple years ago, seven girls applied," said Captain Bob Craig, chief patrol honcho. "One showed up, but she didn't make it. That ocean is powerful; you need strength," the patrol's 45 year veteran explained.
In fact, even some brawny males consider beach patrol tryouts impossible. "We're dealing with human lives and we can't be easy on the guards," Craig said. "We are tough."
Susan's momentous accomplishment, however, slipped by quietly within the traditionally male patrol. Craig said, "We work together-up and down the line. We're looking for the best people regardless of sex, just as long as they can do the job," he said.
But meanwhile, the boardwalk buzzed with the news. "I'm really glad that she made it," said one young man who works at a downtown watering hole. "It just shows those guys that girls can do it."
Susan, however, appeared slightly amused after being informed of her news making status. "Oh really?" she inquired as she stuffed sweat gear into a tote bag. Later, Susan was scanning the beach at her temporary station between the pier and the rock jetty. She was interrupted, however, by several young men who were preparing for the patrol's quarter mile swim. They stopped to congratulate her. "I don't think I would have forgiven my self if I hadn't given it a try," she said moments later, when asked why she hadn't competed last summer. "Well, I knew I should have given it a shot, but I chickened out," Susan said. Instead she worked at the Montego Bay grocery store.
The practice proved invaluable. "I was accustomed to ocean swimming," she said. The test, however, required more than just swimming. She had to prove her running prowess as well. During the simulated rescue, Susan anchored a man across her back and ran ashore. "I was surprised," the captain conceded. "She didn't look that big. "I'm very pleased that she made it. If she can handle the rest, she'll work out real fine," he continued.
According to him, the jobs "glamour wears off after the first two hours sitting on a hard seat. It's a hard job, it's mental. You have to be mentally alert, as well as physically." Susan agreed, even though she has only been on the job a few days. "You really want to be responsible for all those people," she said. The captain related a story in which a guard successfully completed the test, only to inform his boss two days later that he couldn't handle the responsibility. "It just wears at you," Craig said. "There's no room for apprehension. You have to be confident. But all these things went through my mind before I tried out," Susan said. Guards must handle any situation, the captain said. Whether it is childbirth, stroke or heat prostration, a patrolman can't panic. A squad member may also encounter epilepsy, drug overdose and lost kids, he added. To an outsider the job seems glamorous, but they take for granted the little things, he said." You have to watch the way people dive through the waves," Craig explained.
The captain then shared a tale about a man who was permanently paralyzed from a hazardous dive into the water. Because initial performance could mean someone's life or death, the captain's officers monitor every guard on the 135-man force. Craig then records their reports on index cards as a referral before asking guards back for the following season. "You have to do it right the first time," he informed.
Although a number of challenges await the college long distance swimmer, Susan is still bubbling. "It's personal accomplishment. But I'm sure anyone who just made beach patrol felt the same as me."
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